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Mr Kevan Jones: I agree with the hon. Gentleman and pay tribute to those two individuals. However, he does not understand that the chief coroner’s role is to drive up standards across the country. Following pressure from the hon. Gentleman when he was in opposition, we rightly allowed military inquests to move away from where the body arrives back in the UK and inquests can now be heard at other coroners courts. The important thing about the chief coroner is that his role would be to ensure that the high standards kept by the two coroners of whom the hon. Gentleman speaks are consistently applied throughout the country.

Dr Murrison: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I would say to him that we now have several years’ experience of a local model with two excellent coroners who have not held back when they have felt it necessary to criticise the Government. That is absolutely appropriate. I understand that Labour Members bear the scars on their backs from these two gentlemen, but that is precisely as it should be. I have to say that I have been very impressed with how Mr Masters in particular has conducted his business and has got to grips with the reality of front-line service.

At the heart of the military covenant lies the concept of “no disadvantage”, which I am pleased has informed much of this debate. “No disadvantage” is played out on two levels: first, no disadvantage in access to public services, which can be easily understood by those of us who represent large numbers of servicemen and women. We have seen it in the disadvantage that service children have been put to when they move around frequently. I am pleased, therefore, that the Government have introduced, as part of the pupil premium, a sum that will, in some small way, mitigate the disadvantage they suffer. We see it also in servicemen and women being bumped off NHS waiting lists and having difficulties accessing dentists.

Secondly, at another level—perhaps a more fundamental level—we have the concept of “no disadvantage” in relation to those who have suffered greatly, physically and mentally, as a result of their military service. It is surely the mark of a civilised society that, when men and women who have contributed so much to that society are injured physically or mentally, we do everything in our power to mitigate the disadvantage that they suffer. I believe that that is what is in Ministers’ minds with the concept of special provision, which has been introduced under amendments to the Bill, and which we discussed on Tuesday.

It is vital that men and women who give so much of their mental and physical health are restored to health so far as is reasonably practicable. I have been impressed recently while touring limb centres, and particularly Headley Court, by the importance of ensuring that that care is ongoing. The Minister can be certain that as this matter returns to Parliament annually the ongoing care of those who have suffered mentally and physically will be brought up time and again. I am very concerned that as the tempo of operations reduces, and as the battle rhythm declines over the years leading up to 2015, the prominence of military matters and our military personnel will decline. Throughout our history, that has always been what happens after the war fighting stops. Indeed, Rudyard Kipling’s sardonic poem “Tommy” highlights that very well. We need to bear in mind Tommy Atkins

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and his plight, and I believe we need to think about that as we plan how to keep this issue in the public mind and, by extension, the minds of politicians.

The annual report has come in for criticism. Some think it is flute music, that it has no substance. I think it is vital, and I commend Ministers for introducing it as part of this Bill. I am also delighted that the Government have listened so well to external bodies that have impressed on Ministers the need to ensure that those who feed into that annual report are heard properly, and that the report, when it comes to Parliament, properly reflects their views and input. In a year or so, we will have the opportunity of seeing this process in action, and I confidently expect the House to have every opportunity to debate the military covenant again and in depth. I suspect that the Minister knows full well that if this looks like being a superficial exercise, he will come in for a great deal of criticism. However, I confidently expect that in a year or so, we will be able to commend him once again for this measure of his to which we are going to give a fair wind today.

There are those who say that the Bill does not go far enough. There are also those who say that we should be more didactic in what we write into the Bill. They are simply wrong. We have support from an unlikely source, in the Archbishops Council, which will of course reflect the views of the unlikely guest editor of the New Statesman magazine. He is not a gentleman who is necessarily known to be a supporter of the coalition Government, yet the Archbishops Council is quite clear that the military covenant exists in the moral realm. It is not contractual, and it is not statutory.

There is a risk, however, that pressure from Europe could codify a military covenant. There is something called Synchronised Armed Forces Europe—which is known by the rather misleading acronym SAFE—which seeks to impose a European soldiers statute that would codify the covenant. I urge Ministers strongly to resist such a thing.

I do not intend to detain the House any longer, as a number of colleagues wish to speak. I congratulate Ministers on bringing forward this measure. The Government have taken the Armed Forces Bill—a Bill that, as something of a constitutional anomaly, we take through this House every five years, with the exception of the Armed Forces Act 2006, which dealt in depth with service discipline—and really added substance to it. This is a truly historic Armed Forces Bill that will do much for the men and women to whom we owe so much, and will honour the covenant that we all have with them.

2.46 pm

Mr Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South) (LD): I would like first to offer the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle), who spoke for the Opposition, and the Minister the opportunity to join the reserve forces, because if their combative skills in this place are anything to go by, they would both be welcome in whichever element of the service—

Mr Robathan: I am too old.

Mr Hancock: One is never too old to give service to one’s country.

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I join the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) in paying tribute to the two coroners who have dealt with military deaths up to now. I have assisted families who have been through that process, and they have always been very complimentary about the way the coroners have acted, the way they were treated by the court and the way the coroners—they believe rightly—tackled the very controversial issues that had resulted in the deaths of their loved ones. I have yet to meet or hear from anyone who is seriously dissatisfied with the behaviour of those coroners, both of whom rightly deserve to be congratulated and thanked on behalf of this House and all the families who have been through that process.

There are those Members who would like more written into the Bill than the three points in the covenant, but really the list is endless. The three issues identified were those that have been raised most consistently, but that is not to say that the others will be ignored. One benefit of having a yearly review and a report to this House is to give all players—those inside and outside the armed forces, whether former or serving members, and other groups representing them—the opportunity to put into play their points of view. Therefore, not writing things into the Bill is not as relevant as some would want to think. I happen to believe that Members from all parts of the House who have worked as Ministers in the Ministry of Defence have tried to put the armed forces at the forefront of their endeavours to be fair.

I also criticise those who do not believe that the covenant is a contract. It is a contract: a contract between the British people, through this House, and the armed forces. Those who have criticised the idea that the covenant is not a written contract are mistaken. At a time when the armed forces have never been held in greater esteem, the people of this country believe that we have a duty not only to honour the covenant, but to make it work for those inside or outside the forces. The idea in the Bill of giving greater independence when complaints are made and dealt with is to be welcomed. However, I am slightly dismayed that we have not done more to introduce a proper ID card for veterans, to give them the same status that veterans have in other countries. I am grateful that the Minister and the Secretary of State have at different times conceded that further consideration will be given to that matter. We need to be sure that we honour our pledge to provide these services through the covenant and through the Bill, wherever they are asked for around the country. It should be irrelevant where the person lives at the time.

The Bill has a number of attractions for people in the armed forces, but it does not really satisfy those who have an interest in the way in which reservists who go on active service are treated when they return. The Select Committee on Defence has taken evidence recently on the way in which returning reserve service personnel are treated—by the health service or by employers, for example. The situation is unsatisfactory in that there is still a sense of exclusion. Returning reservists are not given enough support, for example, when they have problems with their employers.

We need to build into the review of armed forces legislation over the next five years, and into the covenant itself, greater support for reservists who are having

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trouble. It is often difficult for someone returning to the United Kingdom after serving abroad for six months to deal with problems arising from their employment. Where do they get the help and support that they genuinely need? In some parts of the country, it is very difficult to get that sort of assistance, and we must look at that.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): What sort of help is available for a Territorial Army reservist when he has problems with his job? How can the Government help, given that a commercial arrangement is involved?

Mr Hancock: I think that the military legal services ought to be made available to them. The hon. Gentleman has a distinguished record of service in the armed forces, and I believe that the same facilities that would have been offered to him, should he have encountered difficulties during his military career, such as medical or legal advice, should be forthcoming to others. I want those facilities to be offered to individual reservists on their return to the United Kingdom, and I hope that the Ministry of Defence will consider that matter seriously.

On behalf of my hon. Friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches, I should like to say how delighted I am that the coalition has been able to deliver on its promise to armed forces personnel and their families that the covenant would be written into legislation and therefore deemed to be part of the law of the land. People can now have great confidence that the armed forces, if not the national health service, are safe in the hands of the coalition.

2.52 pm

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Mr Hancock), who speaks so clearly on this subject. I shall be brief, but I should like to make one or two points. There can be few more solemn moments in the Chamber than when the names of the dead are read out at Prime Minister’s questions on a Wednesday. This is now happening practically every week. I therefore find it interesting that, despite the statements of support and grave interest in our armed forces, our debate on the very thing that supports them—namely, the military covenant—has been scheduled for a Thursday afternoon. There are very few Members present—disgracefully few on the Opposition Benches—and there is a larky atmosphere with people trying to get out of this place as quickly as they can. That is a discredit to the men and women who serve us, and to the subject that we are debating today.

I am pleased to see so many hon. and gallant Members and former comrades in arms around me, however. I should like to pay tribute to the excellent speech made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison). It was a highly intelligent speech, but I disagree with him on one subject. He used the very moving terms “battle rhythm” and “tempo of operations” aspirationally, saying that he hoped that both of those things would decline. It is worth bearing in mind that in April, 1st Battalion The Rifles deployed to Helmand province, and that, 131 years ago, its predecessor, the 66th of Foot, also deployed to Helmand. That was exactly the same area and exactly the same regiment facing exactly the same tribesmen, and with a

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similar political backdrop. In four hours, 994 men were killed in the battle of Maiwand, which now falls within the area of responsibility of the 1st Battalion The Rifles—what a coincidence.

I do not think that the tempo of operations or battle rhythm is going to decrease at all. As the fighting operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan decline, I have every confidence—I say this with no pleasure—that other operations will come up that will require our fighting men and women to be deployed in other parts of the world and that the military covenant will be just as important then as it is now.

Despite my earlier rather churlish comments, I am delighted that this Government have chosen to put these measures in a place where they can be properly recognised. I think it crucial to support the morale not just of the fighting men and women but of their families by assuring them that things are being done for them. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who I know is going to speak later, used to command the Cheshire Regiment. [Interruption.] I gather that he is not going to speak later, which will be a great disadvantage to the whole House, I am sure. When he and I were serving, I know that we felt that no differentiation was made at all, as no particular support or advantage was given specifically to soldiers, sailors or airmen and their families. I thus rejoice in the fact that health care, schooling, taxation and other individual items are to be put on a more sensible basis for those who serve to protect us.

I ask the Minister to think carefully about how the military covenant—ill defined as it necessarily and properly is—might evolve and develop, and about whether we can learn anything, particularly from our American cousins.

There is one thing that completely defeats me. As a former commanding officer, I knew that I had only one thing to hand by which I could financially advantage those under my command. In those days, it was called the commanding officer’s discretionary fund. Over the years, that fund has gone up and I understand that it is has recently been about £60 a head. Forgive me for teaching the House to suck eggs, Mr Deputy Speaker, but this is simply a fund of money given to commanding officers—be they commanding mobile bath units or a battalion of the guards—to spend as they see fit on those under their command without any further reference to higher authority. It is an extremely important fund. It has been spent recently on preparing homecoming parades; it has helped with regimental funerals; it has provided people with excellent opportunities for training; and it has allowed people to enjoy themselves a little and to get some quality time.

Modest though it is, this discretionary fund is extremely important, yet it has been cut, which I do not understand. This fund is immediate, important and goes right to the heart of the military covenant. I appreciate that in the overall scheme of things it is not a big sum of money and I appreciate that it is not a large issue overall, but to the men and women inside the units, it is crucial. I deplore the fact that it has been cut, because that stands on its head the logic and the propriety of everything else that has been done through the military covenant.

I will spare the House any more of my rhetoric. I am grateful for the opportunity to have made these points and I am grateful to this Government for what they

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have done. I hope to see the military covenant evolving and improving, and I have absolutely no doubt that the Minister will now think carefully about the commanding officer’s discretionary fund—and I am sure that he will restore it.

2.59 pm

Mrs Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): In this, my first year as a Member of Parliament, it has been a revelation and a reassurance to know that so many colleagues throughout the House have served in our armed forces, and I am even more surprised and steeled by the number who continue to serve as reservists. Their front-line experience is priceless in these thorny and precarious times. I do not share their direct experience of the ways of modern warfare, but I certainly see the landscape from a different plane. I am the mother of a teenage son who is training to become a Royal Marine commando, and my constituency is home to 36 Engineer Regiment and the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers. The health and well-being of our armed forces is therefore very close to my heart.

I do not intend to make a long speech, but I want to say a little about clause 2, about the military covenant, and, in particular, about how the covenant can help our military families. Isolation is a significant issue for military families when their loved ones are away, and in my constituency some Army mums have set up a local support group called Troopers Mums. Those inspirational women support themselves as well as the servicemen and women of whom they are so proud. They say that one of the most important factors for families dealing with isolation and worry is the existence of a support network of like-minded, empathetic people who are undergoing the same fears and anxieties. Sometimes it can be as simple as knowing, just from a look, when someone needs a cup of tea and a chat. Those women rely on each other in moments of need, and in many cases a problem shared is truly a problem halved. Troopers Mums are not asking for help; they simply want to be able to help themselves.

I know from my own research that other good support groups exist, but their functioning seems to be fragmented, unconnected and sporadic. Perhaps we can explore how we might develop and support a more uniform and accessible network across the country. When I use the word “support” I do not refer to state finance, state interference or yet another layer of state bureaucracy, and I echo the sentiments of one of the mums who said that she would not want a single penny to be diverted from the front line, but I think that with Government endorsement and some sponsorship from the private sector, we could assist families in a real and tangible way by helping them to set up and operate networks of their own.

The second point that I want to make about the military covenant concerns our nation as a whole. The covenant is a commitment between the Government, our service personnel, families and the nation. What worries me is that even if we enshrine the Government’s part of the bargain in legislation, things can still go badly wrong if our nation does not buy in. In conversation with my Troopers Mums, I heard of many instances in which a little kindness and understanding could have gone a long way, especially in the workplace. One mum told me that she had not been allowed time off to attend

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her son’s medal ceremony because she had already been given time off to attend his graduation some years earlier. Another told me that when her son was severely injured while serving in Afghanistan, she began to struggle at work. The response from her superiors was that she should “pull herself together.”

Closer to home, here in Westminster, I recently attended an armed forces dinner. I sat next to a man who had served in Iraq and had been awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, which is one down from the Victoria Cross. He had also served in Afghanistan, where his gallantry had earned him the Military Cross. I asked him about his Army life, and we talked of many things. He mentioned his home on an Army base, where he lives with his wife, who will soon turn 50. They cannot close the windows properly in their house because the double glazing framework has blown out. Their kitchen is made up of badly fitting, ill-matching units which are dysfunctional and look a complete shambles. They are sometimes embarrassed to ask people to supper because of the state of their accommodation.

Warrant Officer Mick Flynn is one of Britain’s most highly decorated soldiers. He is one of our heroes. He has given his entire working life to his country, and he is justly proud of his career. He does not complain, and he asks for little. I think that, as we debate the military covenant, the House will agree that we should support the rhetoric with practical action, such as ensuring that someone goes round to Mr and Mrs Flynn’s house to sort out their windows, fix the kitchen, and restore a little dignity to their home.

Bob Stewart: They will now.

Mrs Grant: Good. That will give some tangible meaning to the term “military covenant”.

There is a positive side, however. I heard a story of a uniformed serviceman boarding a civil jet to return to the UK and the other passengers giving him a spontaneous round of applause as he took his seat. That is a great example of attitude, awareness and respect, and perhaps we should do much more of that kind of thing unreservedly. In order for the covenant to work, society must also modify.

I am very proud to support the Bill. I hope it will help to maintain public awareness of the sacrifices made by our military personnel and their families every single day.

5.5 pm

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): It is a pleasure to be called to contribute to this debate. I welcome the Bill’s provisions, especially the enshrining of the military covenant into law.

I have not been able to contribute to earlier debates on the Bill, nor do I have any military service as distinguished and gallant as that of some Members who have spoken. My only experience of military service was going to Leconfield base when I was about eight or nine with my father, when he was in the Territorial Army in east Yorkshire. That is as far as my direct interaction with the military goes. However, my constituency, and east Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire in general, is

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a major recruiting ground for our military. Consequently, a number of veterans in my constituency and across the area regularly contact me on military matters, as do the families of serving personnel. This subject is of great local interest, therefore.

The constituency also has a long and proud history of supporting our military and playing an important role in military operations. Only last week, I attended a ceremony in Goole to mark the anniversary of D-day, and the Mulberry harbour was, of course, constructed in Goole, so the military is never far from the minds of the people of Brigg and Goole. I have also been working with a number of charities in my local area, not least the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association. The Minister knows of my interest in it, as he recently met me at the Ministry of Defence to discuss its work. I know it will welcome the military covenant provisions.

I may not have any direct military service history, but a month or so ago I spent some time with the armed forces scheme in the Falkland Islands, which was incredibly enlightening as it gave those of us without that experience the opportunity to engage with service personnel in all three branches of the military. I was staggered to hear how poorly some of them feel they are both treated and prepared for leaving the military. I was especially shocked to learn that many of them find that it is a problem for them to wear their uniform when they return to the UK. In fact, some of them highlighted that they had been verbally assaulted for wearing their uniform. That demonstrates that we have to ensure that more respect is shown to our military by the general public, and there is no better way of leading on that than by enshrining the military covenant in law.

When talking to those soldiers, sailors and airmen in the Falklands, I was most interested by what they planned and wanted to do on leaving the military. As a former teacher who takes a close interest in educational issues, I was struck by the fact that in the past there has been insufficient support for those leaving the military, and I certainly hope the covenant will address that. I particularly welcome the Government’s announcements on independent learning funds for those in the military and greater support for those leaving the military. I hope we hear more about that in the coming months and years.

We have heard a lot about the Joanna Lumley test. In my constituency, I apply the Mavis Vines test. She is a constituent of mine who worked for 25 years in Berlin for the British military before returning to Goole, and who now continually, and quite rightly, pressures me on the issue of how our veterans and serving personnel are treated, especially as her son has just returned from Afghanistan. One issue that she continuously presses me on—quite rightly—is housing. In 10 years as a local councillor, I saw the pressures relating to housing. We are all aware of those, but housing is never far from the minds of those who serve in our military and are transients, to say the least, when serving. Consequently, I hope that enshrining the military covenant and the annual report on the covenant in law will address some of the pressures and challenges that service personnel face.

I needed no more evidence of how a great deal remains to be done on our treatment of our military, but I received some when a constituent came to see me a couple of weeks ago. His son is a ground crew man who

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is working as part of Operation Ellamy in Italy. My constituent informed me, against the wishes of his son, that service personnel were continuing to be served rotten food and that they had insufficient computers to make contact with their families back home. This relates back to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) about isolation. When these people are on active service overseas, that isolation is not helped if there are not enough computers, mobile phones or communication routes back to their loved ones back home. Although progress has been made since this Government came to power, a great deal more clearly can and should be done to support people on active service overseas.

I do not want to detain the House for too long, but I do want to express my support for the Bill. The Government are right to enshrine the covenant in law. I heard the words of the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle) and I will resist asking why these things were not done previously. The Labour Government did have a number of years in which they could have enshrined the covenant in law. I hope that we can proceed in a cross-party way on this issue. There remains much to be done to support our military, but the amendments that have been made to enshrine the covenant are the right ones. I am sure that hon. Members from all parts of this House will support the Bill, as I will, and I conclude by wishing our service personnel all the very best.

3.12 pm

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): I would like to start my contribution by putting on the record just how much I enjoyed serving on the Armed Forces Bill Committee. Not only was that a great honour for me, but it was very interesting and, at times, fun, as others have said. It was my first Public Bill Committee and it would have been my first choice in terms of subject. I am sure that one of the reasons why I was asked to serve on it was because of my military background, although I can assure the House that my military experience is very modest.

I am sure hon. Members are aware that I am a serving reservist. I am currently a trooper in the ranks with the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars, as part of the Royal Wessex Yeomanry. Previously, I was a gunner with 266 Commando Battery in Bristol and was attached to 29 Commando on Operation Herrick 9. Because of injury—I snapped my collar bone—and the general election interrupting my military service, and despite my best efforts, I have not been able to join the friends I served with last time who are in Afghanistan, on Operation Herrick 14, as part of 3 Commando Brigade. That has made me feel guilty from time to time, and it leads to some days when I am a bit out of sorts because I am here when they are out there doing the business and doing a great job. While they are out there serving our country, if I have been able to serve on this Committee and make a small contribution that will in the end improve the lives of servicemen and women, veterans and their families, at least I will have done my bit in some way. I hope the rest of my friends’ deployment goes very well and they all come back safely.

On occasion, the Committee has been more partisan than I would have liked. However, that has mainly been on the detail and emphasis, rather than the principle of

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doing the best that we can for our troops, veterans and their families—in principle, there is complete agreement on that. I am glad that there is broad agreement across the House and the party political divide on this final version of the Bill.

I want to pay tribute to all my colleagues on the Committee, with whom I have really enjoyed working, especially my new friend the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who is, I know, very passionate about the armed forces and did some fantastic work in the previous Government, when he was a Minister. [ Laughter. ] Sorry, I could not resist.

We all recognise that the most important and prominent duty of any Government is the defence of the realm and the protection of our people. I believe the whole House is also in agreement that it is of equal importance that all Governments value the contributions and sacrifices that our servicemen and women make in carrying out that most crucial task. The welfare of our nation’s servicemen and women is rightfully at the top of the political agenda and the Government have moved swiftly to ensure that any lapses in the commitment between Government and our armed forces are rectified.

In the Bill, we have a piece of legislation of historic importance to our nation and to our armed forces. The commitment has existed since the inception of the nation state—from the times when the ancient Romans gave land to their veterans to provide them with a livelihood to 1593 when Elizabeth I recognised the country’s responsibility to wounded veterans—and the passing of the Bill, in this House, proves our firm and now unbreakable commitment to our service personnel, veterans and their families.

Most significant will be the statutory duty on the Secretary of State to report annually to Parliament on the effects of service in our armed forces and on the welfare of serving and former members of the armed forces and of their families. That provision will ensure that the armed forces covenant that the Government are rebuilding will be advanced year on year. Each report will have to set out how the Government are supporting our armed forces, their families and veterans in key areas such as health care, housing and education.

For the first time in the history of our nation, the Bill will give statutory recognition to the armed forces covenant and provide a mechanism for ensuring that it is addressed by Ministers and Parliament. As I have mentioned, in Committee there was broad agreement, at least on the key principles that underpin the armed forces covenant. To me, those principles are that when our armed forces personnel on operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere face paying the ultimate price in the protection of our country, its citizens and our freedoms and way of life, we should only ask them to do so in the knowledge that they are properly equipped for the task, that they will be trained to the highest level and that when they retire or should they be injured, wounded or indeed killed, they and their families will be provided for in recognition of and admiration for the sacrifices that they have made.

The covenant between the state and the men and women we ask to defend it is rightfully a long-standing tradition and commitment and its continuation and development is more important than ever before. That is why I, too, welcome the amendments tabled in the name of the Secretary of State for Defence, which were

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accepted by the House. Those amendments have been welcomed by Chris Simpkins, the director general of the Royal British Legion, who said:

“I firmly believe that we now have a much better Bill, which is not just fit for purpose, but also embodies the ‘historic agreement’ and covenant principles”.

The way in which the covenant was reflected in legislation was debated in great detail in Committee, and we can all be proud of what has come out of those deliberations.

This Bill is recognition of a duty that precedes even this place, the mother of all Parliaments, and that is the duty of care, protection and equality for those who are asked to defend our country. This is a proud moment for this Parliament, which will enshrine that covenant in law for the first time.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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Economic Regeneration (Barnsley)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Stephen Crabb.)

3.18 pm

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab): It gives me great pleasure to secure today’s debate on an issue that is extremely important for Barnsley and for the whole country.

The cuts and changes to welfare pursued by this Government are hitting the most vulnerable parts of the country the hardest, and Barnsley is on the front line. More than 25% of our jobs are in the public sector, one of the highest rates in the country. The loss of many of these jobs will take tens of millions of pounds out of the local economy just as benefit changes start to bite. We have taken huge strides to overcome the stagnation and decline that hit us the last time the Conservatives were in power, but these cuts have the potential to push us back years.

The legitimacy of the Government’s programme depends on its fairness. Before they go further down the road they have embarked on, they have a duty—an obligation—to stop and think about the effect it will have on places such as Barnsley. That does not mean that we reject reform to our public finances or to our public services, but the deficit needs to be tackled in a way that corresponds to sensible economic policy, not to the demands of ideology. Welfare needs to be reformed in a way that does not kick the genuinely vulnerable in the teeth. The question is how far and how fast the cuts and changes are made and what is done to make the process a transition, rather than a reckless abandonment of our communities and a gamble with our economic future.

First and foremost, places like Barnsley need targeted support to help drive development and employment—a coherent, responsible regional development strategy that has the resources to succeed. That does not mean giving unsustainable handouts. What is holding Barnsley back is not the fundamentals—we have the location, the work force and the will to thrive—what we need is the investment to overcome the entirely man-made barriers to our progress.

Michael Dugher (Barnsley East) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for securing this important debate. Does he agree that there is proof that the area still has something very significant to offer in ASOS’s announcement last year of 1,100 new jobs for Barnsley, specifically in Grimethorpe in my constituency? Is it not the case that those jobs and that investment came about because of decisions made by previous Governments to ensure that we had in place infrastructure such as the facilities, warehouses and roads to attract such firms, and that we need a real partnership with government?

Dan Jarvis: I thank my hon. Friend for that constructive and useful intervention. I believe that the ASOS model provides a useful example of how the Barnsley development agency, working with the metropolitan borough council, can aggressively seek to target other industries and businesses. The ASOS model is a useful one that we need to learn lessons from and employ in future.

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As I have said, what we need is the investment to overcome the entirely man-made barriers to our progress. Without that, as my colleague the shadow Business Secretary recently said,

“the government’s belief that the retreat of the state is automatically matched by the expansion of the private sectors is going to be tested to destruction.”

The Government have dispensed with the strategic investment fund, with grants for business investment and with regional development agencies. The new regional growth fund has only a third of the money that was available under RDAs. I accept that RDAs were not without their failings, but the local enterprise partnerships that have replaced them are short on funding and short on power.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman honestly think that any Government Member or anyone in this country wants to cut jobs just for the sake of it for some reason of politics? The fact is that jobs have had to go because we just cannot afford them any longer and we cannot just plough money into the public sector all the time.

Dan Jarvis: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I do not believe that Government Members think of these issues in such ways but this is a matter of policy. Barnsley is the kind of place that will go into a recession first and come out of it last and I believe that when the Government are making significant cuts to public services that will have an impact on jobs and livelihoods across Barnsley, they have a duty and an obligation to pause and consider the effect that those cuts will have on the people in Barnsley.

Where public sector cuts are made and jobs in the public service are lost, I do not believe that it is a given that the private sector will come in and fill the void. That should not be a natural assumption. In order to promote the kinds of conditions that allow the private sector to invest in places such as Barnsley, there needs to be a targeted programme of investment and development. I do not believe that the policies that the Government are putting in place will do that, but I thank the hon. Gentleman, as ever, for his useful intervention.

The LEPs, which have replaced RDAs, are short on funding and short on power. They are not even guaranteed the money for their own start-up costs, never mind for investment to support business. They will have to apply to the regional growth fund, whose first round of funding is already 10 times oversubscribed, and they have been denied access to cash from the European regional development fund, which is being centralised at the desk of a Whitehall bureaucrat. Perhaps the Minister can explain how that fits with the Government’s supposed localism agenda.

I believe that we can and must do better than that. First, we can strengthen the LEPs and make them much better able to co-ordinate and lead a strategic approach to regional development. Among other things, that means giving them access to the ERDF and allowing them to join together to secure investment for cross-regional projects. It means giving them a stronger, more formal role in the development of local economic growth plans. It means removing or reducing the £1 million threshold for RGF bids so that smaller companies can apply and

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LEPs can work with them to bring in the investment projects needed to spur growth. Will the Minister consider these changes?

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Mark Prisk): I am pleased to say that small businesses can participate in the RGF. The £1 million programme for the second phase will allow small and medium-sized enterprises to participate, and in the first phase we saw that they were able to participate in Merseyside and Plymouth, so I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance.

Dan Jarvis: I am grateful to the Minister for that assurance.

One area where LEPs have real influence is the creation of enterprise zones. I commend the Government on the proposal being put forward by my local LEP, but I hope that the Government will not penalise proposals from several LEPs, including my own, for enterprise zones that are spread across several sites. The Government must be ready to listen to LEPs where there is a clear rationale based on the complexity of the local economy and the real needs of businesses. The uncertainty on this question reflects the over-simplistic and unclear nature of the criteria for enterprise zone site selection. Will the Minister ensure that those problems are rectified as a matter of urgency so that the work of LEPs such as mine is not inhibited by a lack of flexibility?

In any case, enterprise zones are a limited tool. They can offer reduced business rates, fast planning and fast internet, but a far greater concern of entrepreneurs in Barnsley is the lack of skilled workers. I will talk about the shortcomings of the Government’s skills policy in a moment, but given that the skills problem is one of the biggest barriers to private sector growth, would it not make sense to mandate the LEPs to oversee a locally adapted skills strategy, in partnership with businesses and local authorities? At the very least, we should take up the suggestion made by the Centre for Cities that enterprise zones should include special support for training and skills development.

For Barnsley, another vital issue, of which I know the Minister is aware, is the Government’s position on transferring the assets of the regional development agencies to LEPs or to local authorities. Those assets were built up by the RDAs with the specific aim of supporting local development, and in many cases they are critical to projects for transforming our local economies. That is the case in Barnsley, where the keystone Barnsley Markets project has been premised on the use of land belonging to the RDA. That is not some bureaucratic black hole; it is the future of Barnsley as a town—a project that is ready and waiting to move forward, and exactly the practical purpose for which the asset was originally acquired.

In total, the future of some £500 million in RDA land and property assets throughout the country is in doubt. I firmly believe that local authorities or LEPs should be given the first say on the use of those assets, and that is not just a Labour view; it is one echoed throughout the House. I am greatly concerned that the Government may be contemplating a fire sale at reduced prices, which would bolster central coffers at the expense of regional development and be deeply short-sighted. Will

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the Minister reassure the House that this will not happen, and will he allow LEPs to use the assets as they were meant to be used?

An active LEP is important, but it is not enough on its own, and the recent figures on bank lending bear out what I hear in person from businesses in my constituency. The problem is especially severe for small and medium-sized enterprises, exactly the sort of businesses that are most important for driving job growth. Research shows that South Yorkshire has one of the highest concentrations of SMEs with high growth potential anywhere in the UK. Keep that in mind, Madam Deputy Speaker, if anyone ever tells you that Barnsley does not have untapped potential.

There is, however, a steady stream of reports that SMEs are being held back by the lack of credit, even when the business case is sound. I was glad to hear that the Business Secretary did not rule out more action down the line if targets continue to be missed; I was not so glad when he told me that banks miss their targets more by choice than by chance. That is not acceptable for businesses in Barnsley or anywhere else in the country.

What plans do the Government have to ensure that banks meet their small-business lending targets? At what point do the Government take firmer action on the two state-owned banks? Would they accept the banks meeting their lending targets but failing to meet their small-business lending targets? What will Ministers do if the banks continue to claim that the demand is not there? It is a claim that many small businesses contest. Is the Minister going to wait to the end of the year to do more than lecture the banks if they are at fault? And what will happen next year if the Project Merlin agreement has not delivered? The Government have admitted that the lack of lending still threatens the entire recovery, but that problem needs to be resolved now.

The market is the foundation of our economy, but the Government have to play a role in helping it develop in a way that matches our strengths and builds the society that we want. If Barnsley is to thrive, it must be at the cutting edge of high-tech, high-value manufacturing and of the new digital and green economies. Instead, the Government are axing the zero-carbon homes initiative, which was helping to develop the next generation of British manufacturing. What are they going to do to support the development of the new economy that we need?

Mr Prisk: On the zero-carbon homes initiative, in fact we have completed that definition, we have published it, and we intend to implement it.

Dan Jarvis: I am grateful to the Minister for that confirmation.

Part of the effort is developing the infrastructure that is needed to bring growth anywhere outside the south-east—especially high-speed rail. The plan that Labour put together in office will bring Leeds within 80 minutes of London, and that could have a major positive impact in Barnsley. However, it is not yet clear that the Government are serious about bringing high-speed rail to the areas that most need it. If they were, why has the Secretary of State for Transport so far declined to include the northern branches of the planned Y-shaped network in the transport

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Bill? Will the Minister reassure the House that that will change, and will the Government reconsider the scale of their cuts to rail transport generally, which threaten a repeat of the under-investment of the previous Conservative Government and fare rises that threaten to put rail travel out of reach for the less well off?

Better transport will particularly help another sector with great potential in Barnsley—tourism. Indeed, that sector has been a key driver of job creation across the country. As the Government say, in the current economic climate those performances make the tourism sector a particularly important part of the UK economy. Barnsley is a great town with a proud history. When I look around the metropolitan borough at places such as the Elsecar Heritage Centre in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher), Cannon Hall and Wentworth castle in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), and the new town hall museum project in the heart of my constituency, I see enormous potential for tourism in Barnsley.

I am glad that the Government’s tourism strategy acknowledges the need for some Government help when market failures mean that tourism is not properly promoted. But they should also consider providing some support for places that have a clear tourism potential but are not yet established destinations. I am thinking especially of areas particularly in need of growth, such as Barnsley. Will the Minister outline how the Government plan to help us achieve our tourism goals?

I believe that the most fundamental barrier to aspiration and economic development in Barnsley is a lack of skills. I recently spoke to a major employer and asked him the three most important factors to consider when relocating or setting up a business. His reply was simple: “Skills, skills and skills.”

Michael Dugher: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again; he is typically generous. He rightly identified the issue of skills and he is right that we need to lift the level of skills in Barnsley if we are going to attract the jobs of the future. Does he agree that certain Government policies such as the scrapping of the education maintenance allowance and the trebling of tuition fees will make that harder, not easier?

Dan Jarvis: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those useful points. The Government’s decision to abandon EMA, treble tuition fees and remove the Barnsley-inspired future jobs fund provide a triple whammy for the hard-working people of Barnsley seeking to secure employment. I ask the Government to consider the impact of those decisions on places such as Barnsley.

The Government’s strategy on skills leaves a lot to be desired. I am glad that they plan to build on Labour’s investment in apprenticeships, but despite the urgent problem of youth unemployment, 16 to 18-year-olds will not be able to access a single one of the extra places that they are funding.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): With your forbearance, Madam Deputy Speaker, I should like to place on the record the delight of the House in the MBE awarded to my hon. Friend in the Queen’s birthday honours last week.

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Is it not the case that significant numbers of young people want to leave school at age 16 and do not want to engage in full-time education, but would benefit from a mix of work and training that is typically represented by a good, solid apprenticeship? Is it not a fundamental mistake to deny young people that opportunity, especially given that it develops the work habit from the very earliest point of entry into adult life?

Dan Jarvis: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for her kind remarks and for the useful and constructive contribution she has made to this debate. I completely agree about apprenticeships. They are a vital pathway for young people, bridging the gap between the classroom and the world of work. I am proud of the work that the Labour Government did in increasing the number of apprenticeship places. I hope to work constructively with Members across the House to persuade businesses across the country, not only in Barnsley and South Yorkshire, to take on more apprenticeships. An apprenticeship is a valuable opportunity for young people that gives them vital experience of the world of work.

The Government have axed Train to Gain, which provided work-based training to 575,000 people in 2009-10. They have also scrapped fees remission for people over 25 who are doing level 2 and level 3 courses. That is partly why the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning has had to admit that adult apprentices may have to borrow up to £9,000 to fund their training.

Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is making a great case for Barnsley, which is a very proud town. I appreciate that he has not been in the House for all that long since his magnificent victory a few months ago, but it probably has not escaped his notice that the Labour Government were in power for 13 years. If there is a big skills shortage in Barnsley, does he not therefore accept that his own party has to take some of the responsibility for that?

Dan Jarvis: I am incredibly grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, which gives me the opportunity to remind the House—although there will be no need to remind people in Barnsley—of the impact of the policies of the Conservative Governments led by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. People in Barnsley will recall the damage that the Conservative Governments who were in power until 1997 did to such places. I will be very happy to walk through Barnsley with the hon. Gentleman, who is always welcome to come and visit—it is not terribly far from his constituency. I will be delighted to show him the real, long-lasting structural improvements that were made in Barnsley as a result of 13 years of Labour government. In effect, the cuts made by the Conservative Governments of the 1980s and 1990s created structural, long-lasting, generational decay in Barnsley, and that takes a significant period to overcome. I believe that the Labour Government made considerable progress during the 13 years when they were in office, and that is clear to people when they walk through the streets of Barnsley. The Building Schools for the Future programme is a classic example; it has provided state-of-the-art infrastructure for kids who go to school in Barnsley. We can be proud of that record. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to make that point.

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As I said, the Government have axed Train to Gain, which was a valuable scheme that provided a significant amount of work-based training to hundreds of thousands of people. They have also scrapped fees remission for people over 25 who are doing level 2 and level 3 courses, and the Minister has had to admit that adult apprentices may have to borrow £9,000 to fund their training. As Labour Members will be well aware, the Government have also cancelled the Barnsley-inspired future jobs fund, pioneered by Councillor Steve Houghton, the leader of Barnsley metropolitan borough council. I remind the House that the FJF provided jobs for 100,000 18 to 24-year-olds, with a valuable training element. Overall, I believe that those decisions represent a reckless underinvestment in the skills needed for economic regeneration and are a body blow to the aspirations of young people not just in Barnsley, but across the country.

Barnsley stands to be particularly affected by the changes in benefits made by this Government. I fully agree that welfare needs to be reformed, but I do not believe that we are going about it in the right way. Above all, the changes do nothing directly to support new jobs. Across the country, there are five times as many claimants as there are open positions. We risk the injustice of penalising people for failing to get jobs that simply do not exist.

There are several ways in which the reforms undermine job creation and stop people getting off benefits. The assumption that the unemployed are earning the minimum wage in the calculation for universal credit will make it virtually impossible for many people to set up a business. The new enterprise allowance cuts out anyone who has not been on jobseeker’s allowance for six months. People coming off disability allowance and people who have just been made redundant who want to set themselves up in business are being told that they have to waste six months uselessly claiming jobseeker’s allowance before they will be eligible for the new enterprise allowance. That costs taxpayers more for people who want only to stand on their own two feet. Will the Government look again at their welfare reform programme as it clearly needs improvement?

The problems facing Barnsley are indicative of those facing towns across the country. The message seems self-evident: we can either sacrifice everything to balancing the books in a way that undermines the economic stability of the country or we can tackle these problems head-on. This is not a request for unlimited spending or an end to reform; it is just a request for the Government to do their bit so that we in Barnsley can fulfil our potential. For now, the Government’s approach is ensuring that places such as Barnsley bear a disproportionate burden. If this Government are to live up to their promises, if they are to make a claim to the basic principles of fairness, and if their cuts and reforms are to have any legitimacy with the British people, that must change.

3.47 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Mark Prisk): I congratulate the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on securing this debate. I do not know whether this is his first Adjournment debate, given that he is a relatively new Member of the House—the second most recent if my calculations are right—but some of the language was a

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little flowery, and there was a strong desire to have a go at the Conservative Government. There seemed to be a moment of frozen time between 1997 and last year, but we will pass that by.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that Barnsley should share in the sustainable, long-term growth that is the overriding priority of this Government for the whole country. We want to forge a new model of growth based on rebalancing the economy both geographically and in terms of sectors. We want to promote and encourage innovation and boost exports, which is a real key to enabling small and medium-sized enterprises to prosper, and not just rely on consumption fuelled by public debt.

The hon. Gentleman rightly highlighted the proud industrial heritage of Barnsley. He was right that it is working hard to continue its transition from the traditional coal mining and glass making industries to new industries such as the low-carbon, creative and digital industries. As he rightly highlighted, Barnsley’s potential has been shown by the decision of ASOS to move parts of its operation to Grimethorpe. I believe that it already employs some 500 people and is set to increase that to 1,000, making it Barnsley’s biggest employer. I am happy to put it on the record that that investment is evidence of the council, the business community and the economic development partners working together locally to make the best use of the area’s assets to bring in the long-term jobs that are important for the people of Barnsley.

As you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, Barnsley is well positioned to benefit from the growth potential of both the Leeds and Sheffield city regions. That is why we agreed that, sitting where it does, and considering the travel-to-work market areas in which it sits, it should be a full member of both local enterprise partnerships. That underscores the principle behind the partnerships. We have introduced them so that they are founded on real, functional economic areas that actually reflect where businesses trade and people work. Through LEPs, we are encouraging business and civic leaders to come together to provide strong leadership at local level. After all, it will be those local leaders who really understand the barriers that are holding back growth in their area. Our policy is deliberately designed to empower them to set the agenda and work together to both drive sustainable growth and create private sector jobs.

In the past few months I have visited 18 local enterprise partnerships, including both the Sheffield and Leeds ones. I have to say, I have been immensely impressed by the ambition and capability of the boards and their members.

Angela Smith: Barnsley is responsible for the production of more than 90% of clay pipes in this country, which, as the Minister knows, is an energy-intensive industry. The Government have a role to play in ensuring that we keep those jobs in the UK and in Barnsley, and create more of them in that really important, environmentally friendly industry. Will the Minister acknowledge that he and his Department have a role to play in ensuring that such industries can stay in the UK and are not made uncompetitive by Government policy on carbon floor pricing?

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Mr Prisk: I am not just pleased to acknowledge that, I am actively playing that role now. The Prime Minister is on record as saying that we do not want, as an unintended consequence of our policies to reduce carbon emissions, to somehow export jobs in such industries only to see the net effect on the climate worsened. The hon. Lady is absolutely right about that, and that is why, working with the energy-intensive industries, we have set in train an approach to develop a proper mitigation strategy. In that way we can help the generators of energy who need a carbon floor price without, as an unintended consequence, destroying the industry to which she refers and the brick, ceramic and steel industries. That is one challenge that we need to meet. It is a tricky balance, because some sectors wish to see a new regulatory framework and others do not. We are trying to ensure that we secure one group without destroying the other.

I mentioned that Barnsley is part of both the Sheffield and Leeds city LEPs. Sheffield city region is focusing on advanced manufacturing and technology, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Barnsley Central will be aware that the advanced manufacturing research centre, based at the university of Sheffield, was recently announced as one of the seven partners in the Government’s first technology and innovation centre. That will focus on high-value manufacturing, and it includes some world-leading businesses such as Rolls-Royce and Boeing. Sheffield city region’s LEP is looking to exploit the potential of the industries to which he referred—creative, digital and low carbon—in which there are real emerging opportunities. For instance, there are the emerging plans for the Dearne valley eco-vision.

Let us not forget that both Leeds and Sheffield LEPs have been charged with overseeing the launch of enterprise zones, as announced by the Chancellor. I worked in enterprise zones in the 1980s, and I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s natural scepticism of them. I see the benefit of them. I am not unaware of the danger that if we do not handle them right there can be an unnecessary displacement effect, but we have reformed them to allow the local business and civic leadership to tell us, through the LEP, including the Barnsley team, where they feel the zones should be. That is a critical difference from what we saw in the 1980s, which is so clearly emblazoned on his memory. Then, the zones were imposed from the centre. We are not doing that. We are asking the partnerships, “Where will the zones have the best effect?”

The enterprise zones will have an important effect. We will notice improvement through the business rates tax breaks, the business-friendly planning rules and the application of superfast broadband, which will kick-start private enterprise locally. The extra business rates that are collected as a result will then be retained and made available to work across the whole local enterprise area. I suspect that one or two businesses will begin to realise that Barnsley, sitting in the middle of two LEPs, is in quite an advantageous position in that context. I also suspect that the hon. Gentleman will fight to ensure that Barnsley remains in that position.

The Government are working with LEPs and enterprise zones on some potential additional incentives to suit local circumstances. This is particularly relevant in south Yorkshire, because those incentives include consideration of enhanced capital allowances for plant and machinery where there is a strong focus on manufacturing. We are

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also considering tax increment financing to boost the long-term viability of such areas, and ensuring that we provide specific and tailored support for inward investment through UK Trade & Investment. I shall say more about inward investment in a moment, because the hon. Gentleman referred to it a moment ago.

On Yorkshire Forward assets, and particularly the Barnsley markets project, I fully accept that the forthcoming closure of Yorkshire Forward has left the future of the project open. I also appreciate that the project is key to Barnsley’s ambitions to be, as the hon. Gentleman has said, a 21st-century market town. That is why I discussed the future of the markets with a delegation from Barnsley council a few months ago. I said then—and I am happy to say it again now—that we have never, and we will not, plan a fire sale of RDA assets in Barnsley or anywhere else.

The project is a victim of the economic downturn in recent years, but I understand that there is now a prospect of getting it going again, which is excellent news. The Government want a resolution that enables the project to be completed. We must have one eye on protecting the taxpayer, but local completion for the local economic benefit is firmly in our sights. I must be careful because discussions are ongoing, but let me put on the record that I welcome the positive discussions that the council is having on the future of the markets. My Department is working closely with local partners to see whether we can get that sorted out.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the regional growth fund. He is right. The first round was incredibly popular, which means that it was, to a degree, oversubscribed. However, I am pleased to tell the House that some 7,628 direct jobs will benefit from that first round, plus a further 2,716 indirect jobs. Most obviously—this is perhaps the most high profile initiative in some media circles—there was £6.4 million funding for the Haribo manufacturing plant in Normanton, and a £2 million R and D project under the new David Brown brand, Windserve. Perhaps most relevant to Barnsley is the £18 million programme for the Sheffield city gateway. That will significantly benefit the whole city region, including Barnsley metropolitan borough.

We are coming to the close of the second round stage—it closes on 1 July—the funding for which is twice that of the first round. Again, there has been a high level of interest. Lord Heseltine gave a briefing this morning for Members of Parliament. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman had the chance to attend, but if not, he is very welcome to talk to my Parliamentary Private Secretary or to me to ensure that he is fully up to date.

May I clarify two points that the hon. Gentleman raised? First, LEPs can, and indeed are, bidding as part of that round. Secondly, small and medium-sized enterprises can bid, as I mentioned, through the various project schemes. This is one area in which they are getting together to put together sensible programmes that allow that. The House will understand that it is quite difficult to administer sensibly a £1 billion competitive fund down to sums of hundreds or small thousands of pounds. However, the £1 million limit has been adjusted to allow for projects and programmes, which has meant that a number of encouraging small and medium-sized bids are involved.

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The hon. Gentleman referred to the importance of skills, and he is right. Skills are vital if we are to equip people for the new opportunities that lie ahead. That is why we are doubling to 24 the number of university technology colleges by 2014—to enable more young people to gain the technical skills they need from an early age; it is why we are funding up to 100,000 work experience placements for young people; and it is why we are investing £250 million in a substantial expansion of apprenticeships, which the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, by 75,000 places over the next four years. To help SMEs, a £75 million programme was announced in the plan for growth—support targeted deliberately to help SMEs that want to access advance-level and higher apprenticeships.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether LEPs should be mandated to drive skills locally. We do not need to mandate that because they are doing it already. One of the great things about the shift from regional development agencies to LEPs is that they allow that local initiative. I was immensely encouraged, certainly in my conversations with the Sheffield city region LEP, that they intend already to bring together their higher and further education college partners and their business partners. They can act as the co-ordinating point, and the nice thing is that we do not have to tell anybody to do that; they are going to do it of their volition.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the role of SMEs, and I entirely agree with him. They are crucial, whether in the economy of South Yorkshire or across the UK as a whole. As someone who started his business at the bottom of the last recession, I have been determined to ensure that the Government, with the remarkable support from everybody from the Prime Minister downwards, set out a path that will help SMEs start, grow and prosper. That is why we are cutting the corporation tax rates for businesses in Barnsley to 20p; simplifying the tax regime; and reducing the overall corporation tax headline rates, which will put an additional £1 billion in the coffers of business for it to reinvest. That is good for jobs. It is also why we are ensuring that new firms in Barnsley are exempted from national insurance contributions on the first 10 employees and extending the small business rate relief holiday—those rates so penalised smaller businesses trying to survive—for a further year from October; and why we took the decision substantially to expand the threshold for the entrepreneur capital gains tax relief from £2 million under the previous Government to £10 million under this Government. That will send the message that we want not only to cut tax rates to help SMEs start up, but to reward business owners as they develop their businesses. That is a crucial message, and one that was well received by businesses around the country.

Those measures are allied to a change in the way we deliver business support in Yorkshire and elsewhere. One of the key changes will be to strengthen how the manufacturing advisory service operates by putting together a £50 million package over the next three years. That outreach service helps SMEs in Barnsley and South Yorkshire, as well as the rest of the country, to improve their productivity, capability and strengths. That is an important shift.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned trade and the need to ensure not only that people can invest in the area, but that SMEs can expand. I believe that

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Barnsley’s businesses need more help in this field, which is why we have overhauled the former strategy and focused UK Trade & Investment on the future of SMEs and on strengthening their ability to reach new markets; and why we have asked the export credits guarantee department to improve substantially the financial support for exports. That will enable south Yorkshire businesses to apply for the new export enterprise finance guarantee, which will underpin their ability to borrow money to reach new markets. It is also why we have tried to establish simpler trade credit insurance schemes, which are an important way of ensuring that businesses have the confidence to start that process.

The Government share the hon. Gentleman’s desire to see Barnsley flourish, along with the rest of the

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country. That is why we are going all out to create a business environment that will give companies the confidence to start, invest and grow, and it is why local communities are being freed from central control and mandates. It will enable them to determine their own future, most obviously through their LEP. This, in a way, is the key to achieving long-lasting economic regeneration and sustainable growth in Barnsley and elsewhere. I can assure him and the House that this will continue to have our relentless focus now and in the months and years ahead.

Question put and agreed to.

4.34 pm

House adjourned.